For Veterans with PTSD, the holidays can be a difficult time. Here are 8 ways you and your family can prepare for a happier, healthier holiday season.
As the holiday season approaches, most families look forward with anticipation.
Colorful lights are strung up on the front porch, the smell of gingerbread wafts through the air, and Christmas music can be heard from every radio.
However, for anyone who suffers from PTSD, the holiday season can be less than “cozy.” Here are a few ways to prepare for a happier, healthier holiday season.
- Take the time to understand why holidays can be so triggering.
Holidays are a time of togetherness and tradition. However, these themes have the potential to bring out lots of stress for those who experience PTSD. Because PTSD often brings with it unpredictable stress and feelings of depression, gatherings may make someone feel incredibly self-conscious. Someone with PTSD may feel guilty or ashamed that they cannot engage or participate in the ways they always have. However, these feelings are normal, and having grace for yourself is key when facing the holiday season.
- Have a discussion with the whole family.
If you have a spouse and/or children, remember that they are your support system. Whether you choose to seek out family therapy, or simply sit down to make a plan together, communication is key. Be sure to let your kids know that any lack of enthusiasm or participation is not their fault.
- Have a plan for holiday parties.
Because social gatherings can be especially stressful for those with PTSD, it may be helpful to create a structured plan for yourself. Take breaks when you need to— step outside for a walk or sit down in a quiet room. You also may feel the need to leave sooner than you normally would, so it helps to create an exit plan in advance with your loved ones. This way, you can step away easily if things begin to get difficult.
- Get plenty of rest.
As simple as it sounds, good sleep makes a difference. Especially as the holiday season drags on and you have an overloaded social calendar, be sure you’re getting enough rest. Take naps if you aren’t able to catch enough Z’s at night, and stick to as regular of a sleep schedule as you can.
- Avoid crowds.
Crowds can be incredibly stress-inducing…… and there’s nothing like the holidays to make people show up in hoards. If you’re triggered by crowds, try to do your Christmas shopping early and on weekdays. Skip the parades, or stay on the outskirts.
- Skip the cocktails.
Though the holidays can be fairly booze-heavy, we recommend opting for a glass of (alcohol-free) eggnog. Alcohol tends to worsen PTSD symptoms and adds an extra layer of unpredictability to already-stressful situations.
- Seek treatment.
If you aren’t already in counseling for PTSD, we recommend staying proactive rather than being reactive. For Veterans with PTSD, the Cohen Clinic offers free counseling (or, if you aren’t in a city with a clinic, try online counseling via our Telehealth service).
- Create new traditions.
If your old traditions aren’t working for you anymore, don’t force it. Creating new routines and traditions can be a sweet way to repurpose family time to make it work for you. Remember that there is nothing wrong with you— these ways of celebrating simply don’t work for you anymore. Have a small, intimate dinner party rather than a house party.
For further reading, here’s a list of 5 Ways Veterans With PTSD Can Seek Care. If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of PTSD, it may be time to schedule an appointment with one of our trained mental health providers. Our clinics are available and offer Telehealth, face-to-face therapy delivered online, to reduce barriers to care. To find out how to get started with Endeavors’ PTSD treatment for veterans, click here! We’d love to connect with you.
Note: This list of tips should not be substituted for medical care. PTSD is a serious mental health condition, and if you or someone you know is or has experienced PTSD symptoms, we recommend seeking professional medical help either through Endeavors or somewhere else. In the event of a mental health emergency, please refer to the below resources:
National Veterans Crisis Hotline: 800-273-8255, press 1
National Women Veterans Hotline: 855-829-6636